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I am in nearly this exact situation:

Can I use a switch loop to power a ceiling fan?

We are trying to install a fan, but instead of having a single duplex outlet on the same wall as the switch, we have 2 different duplex outlets on opposite sides of the room behind plaster walls.

This is the first time I've ever worked with a switch loop, and honestly, my brain is failing me. Can I replace the 14/2 romex between the closest outlet and the switch with 14/3, which should give me all of the conductors necessary to hook up the fan switch and fan? Or do I need to replace the wire between the two duplex outlets as well (as I said, the switch controls both of them)?

The first is probably something I can do with a spare saturday, a fish tape, and a 25' piece of 14/3. The second would require tearing down plaster through a good part of my wife's studio and more patching than I think we're really able to do right now.

Any help would be very much appreciated. Now I'm aware that several rooms in our house seem to be wired this way, and I'm thinking I have a mess on my hands. Especially because it doesn't look like any of the white wires have been marked as hot.

Edit due to confusion:

This diagram shows approximately how the wiring looks. The major differences would be, instead of having a lamp, there are 2 outlets. Both outlets are switched. Switch goes on, both outlets get power. Switch goes off, both outlets lose power.

enter image description here

What I believe I need to do is rewire the outlets and switch so they match this diagram which follows modern code:

enter image description here

These wiring diagrams belong to do-it-yourself-help.com. The original images can be found here: https://www.do-it-yourself-help.com/wiring_switches.html

What I need to know is if I have to include both of the outlets if I replace the 14-2 wire with 14-3? Can you install 14-3 half way through the switch loop?

  • It isn't clear from the description what the switch currently controls. Are the outlets switched, or is there a ceiling box that is switched? – Comintern Jul 18 '14 at 12:46
  • Both outlets are switched. Switch goes on, both outlets get power. Switch goes off, both outlets lose power. I am trying to add a second switch into the same box that will be connected to a ceiling fan (similar to the other question). – Matthew Jul 19 '14 at 2:04
  • Your two diagrams appear to be identical circuits; the only differences are (a) wire color conventions, and (b) carrying the neutral through to the switch box. Neither diagram shows a three-way switch setup, which is what you seem to be saying you have (two switches either of which can turn the fixture on or off). If you want to control the fan the way you now control the light, hook it up the way the light is hooked up. If you want separate control from the switchplates over the fan and its built-in light fixture, then you need to rewire to add another circuit. – keshlam Jul 19 '14 at 14:44
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The reference to a switch loop in the related question describes a pair of wires that are both hot or live. The white wire is serving as a black and should have a black marking or tape on it. The switch is serving as a break in the hot line.

Every operating device (like a fan or lamp) in standard wiring needs a hot line and a neutral line, and usually a ground, although that is not strictly necessary in all circumstances. In the wiring described in the other question, there was no neutral running through the switch box, but there had to be a neutral connected to the device itself, in the box that the fixture was attached to. The neutral wire is never switched, so only the hot lead was routed to the switch loop. Modern code requires that new switch circuits also have a neutral present, since some newer switch devices need a neutral to function.

Your situation may be different. On your circuit, one of the three boxes is closest (electrically) to the main panel. There is a live circuit line running either to one of the outlets or to the switch box. In either case the outlets you describe must have a neutral wire present as well as a hot wire.

If you want the fan to be switched on and off by the same switch as the outlets, you can simply add a wire from either outlet box to the fan location and connect all wires in parallel (black/white/ground).

If you want a separate switch for the fan, you need to tap into the power where the live circuit comes in to the room. It may be either of the outlets or it may be the switch box (if there is a neutral in that box). You need to tap into the unswitched hot, run that hot to a new switch and connect the neutral and ground in parallel. Then run the full cable from the new switch to the fan.

If you want to use separate hard wired switches for fan and light, run 14/3 from a switch box fed by the always hot line, using the two hots separately for the two features.

An alternative if you want separate switching is to run a full cable (14/2 or 12/2) directly to the fan from the box that has an unswitched hot. Use a fan that has a hand-held or wall mounted remote and wire the fan as always hot (no line switch). Then the remote controls whether power is going to the fan. This also simplifies installing a fan/light combination.

As to your other outlets, white wires are generally not hot unless used to connect to switches and should be so marked. Most white wires are neutral. You can test your outlets for correct wiring with a plug-in tester like this one. plugin tester.

If the tester reveals miswiring, you should consider calling in a pro. It also sounds as if you are not too familiar with wiring in general, so you may want to enlist the help of someone with a bit more experience until you become more confident. In any event be sure to turn of the circuit breakers before opening any box and confirm wire are not live with a non-contact tester like this one non-contact tester

 images and links are for illustration only, and not an endorsement of goods or sources
  • I've edited for clarity. I know for a fact that this is a switch loop. There is no functional neutral in the switch box. It's just a white wire, the same as shown in the diagram I've added. This is a house from the 1950's, so there's been a number of things I've had to update to bring up to code. – Matthew Jul 19 '14 at 1:54
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If I understand your question correctly - let me verify that first.

You have one switch controlling two outlets. You want to add a ceiling fan. It's not quite clear whether your ceiling fan is to also be controlled by the switch, but at this point that's pretty moot.

You currently have 14-2 supplying power to the first outlet box, where it breaks out into a switch loop before connecting to that outlet, then continuing on to the second outlet. The switch loop is wired with 14-2, and you have 14-2 running from that first (switched) outlet box to the second.

The switch loop's white wire is marked at both ends to indicate that it's used as a load-carrying conductor, in conformance with pre-2011 code, but you want to update that to a 14-3 instead so that both load-carrying conductors will be "colors" and a neutral is supplied to the switch.

Your question SEEMS to be one of whether 14-3 also needs to be run from that first switched outlet box to the second. If I'm correct, no - it doesn't, provided that the second outlet is to be switched; it can be driven entirely from the first switched outlet with 14-2.

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It is quite interesting how not only the answers, in varying degrees, drift off-topic, but also how the question and or the premise conditions are clearly misunderstood at times, with responses that are unrelated to the question! Several aspects of the answers provided are excellent, but don't quite get to solving Matthew's dilemma. Yes, this is very late in the game, as in four years late! But I just tripped over it and thought others may also find it who have a similar situation and are looking for a useful answer.

First off, Matthew's accompanying diagrams throw a potential respondent off track if not considered only as representative of his situation. He said, "we have 2 different duplex outlets on opposite sides of the room", and, "Both outlets are switched. Switch goes on, both outlets get power. Switch goes off, both outlets lose power." Ok, now we know that neither outlet is half-switched, as one respondent suggested; both outlets are fully switched -- power on, or power off. Next, he said, "I am trying to add a second switch into the same box that will be connected to a ceiling fan."

And he said, "The second [option] would require tearing down plaster through a good part of my wife's studio and more patching than I think we're really able to do right now."

With that information we can provide a plausible and effective answer. His primary question is should he wire a new 3-wire cable in place of one or more of the existing 2-wire cables between the two existing outlets and up to the switch box. Answer: yes, but only if you want to maintain the switched outlets. Although he never said whether or not he wanted to do that, he did imply it by saying, "I am trying to add a second switch into the same box that will be connected to a ceiling fan."

This is where a bit of experiential intuition comes in handy. He wants to install just a ceiling fan, switched from the wall; in fact, from the same existing 1-gang switch box, as also implied by the information he provided. Given the conditions, and the fact that he does not want to engage in all the work necessary to run the total of three new 3-wire cable(s) (or add a second switch), and have to do all the plaster repairs, we can suggest the following.

Turn off the power; open up the two duplex outlets and the switch outlet; remove the switch; reconfigure the wiring at both duplex outlets such that both duplex outlets are no longer switched, rather, wired to be live all the time. This means simply connecting the two whites to the neutral side and the two blacks to the hot side of each of the two duplex and close them up.

Now the black at the switch box is a full-time, live hot wire, and the white at the switch is a "live" neutral wire.

Next, buy a light kit for the ceiling fan. Next, wire a new 3-wire up to the ceiling fan/light location from the existing switch box. Of course, install a fan-rated box support assembly. And of course, connect/splice/terminate the EGC (Equipment Grounding Conductor), the bare copper wires, to the duplexes and the boxes and the switch, as and where required.

At the switch box, using a new duplex switch (two single pole switches on one device yoke, a "stacker" as it is sometimes called), connect the wires: first, splice the neutrals (the whites) together with a wirenut and fold them away. Observing the wiring diagram on the stacker switch, connect the black, full-time hot wire (coming from the last duplex receptacle where the wiring was reconfigured) to the "hot" or "line" terminal screw on the stacker. Next, connect the 3-wire black wire (going up to the fan/light) to either the top or bottom screw on the other side of the stacker; now connect the 3-wire red wire to either the top or bottom screw on the other side of the stacker. Now there are two switch legs going up to the ceiling fan/light location. At the fan/light, connect the fan black wire to the 3-wire black wire, and the light wire, blue, to the 3-wire red wire. And of course connect the fan white wire to the white wire in the 3-wire cable. Now the fan/light has two separate and connected switch legs, to operate the fan and light independent of each other, and a neutral wire. Of course, in this scenario the pull chains on the fan will be used to control the fan speed, and to control the light dimming levels, if so equipped.

BONUS: instead of the stacker switch, buy a 1-gang dual control fan/light switch. It is highly recommended that this dual control switch device be manufactured by the fan manufacturer, OR, better yet, a combination fan/light control switch device manufactured by Lutron - they build them right, with 6 or 7 fan speeds and light dimming levels -- a bit pricey, but worth every penny. Now the fan speed and the light dim level can be controlled from the wall controller, all fitting in the existing 1-gang box. What a package, nearly miraculous! And if there is access from above, probably no plaster cuts to repair, after running the new 3-wire from the existing switch box up to the new ceiling fan/light box. Another huge BONUS!! :)

For an inexperienced person this should take about eight hours, subject to attic access above to install the fan/light outlet box and fish the 3-wire down to the existing switch box. Don't forget to turn the power back on and enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done!!

Well, I hope I've done a good job explaining this and proof-reading it. I'll likely never be back to this particular post, but I do hope that someone will benefit from this oration. I am a nearly-retired Master Electrician with 45 plus years of experience in the residential electrical industry and hold a Class A Contractors License for nearly 30 years. I've done hundreds of very similar and successful installations. Cheers!

  • Welcome to DIY.SE -- you raise lots of good points here, and don't worry about being a Stackromancer, we wear it as a badge of pride around here :) – ThreePhaseEel Sep 6 '18 at 3:52
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    Hello, and welcome to Stack Exchange. Yes, there's a lot of good info here, but all the commentary gets in the way of people understanding your answer. Would you edit this down? Thanks. – Daniel Griscom Sep 6 '18 at 11:48
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If you are adding a new ceiling fan with a light and currently only have switched outlets in that room ( I am assuming that you are installing a fan rated box properly supported in the ceiling) the outlets no longer need to be switched. At the outlet in your drawing you can remove the color markings from the White in the switch loop and re connect them white to white and black to black this will give you a hot and neutral at the switch box you can then run a 3 wire from the switch box to the fan light combination and switch them individually. Without more information I cannot tell you how to deal with the other switched outlet. PS Tell me if I am off base with what you are trying to do.

  • The NEC then and now allows for a switched outlet as an exception the rule requiring a switched ceiling light in living rooms, bedrooms etc. But the switched outlet cannot be one of the ones that need to be within 6 foot cord reach along usable wall space. That is why you find duplex outlets 1/2 switched. That is why I said if you are installing a new fan light combination switched at the wall you no longer need switched outlets in that room to comply with the code. They can be made hot all of the time. – user24125 Aug 19 '14 at 2:44

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